Mirror, Mirror: Why I love the NBPTS

I’m shy.  But when I’m with my students, I feel full of energy and assertiveness.  Teaching has gifted me with my voice, and I’ve learned to use it in all corners of my life.

Yet, despite so much evidence of my worth to my students, in my deepest heart (and often at the forefront of my brain), I often felt like less of a teacher than the guy next door.  Regardless of my professional successes, insecurity began to undercut everything I achieved in my classroom.  I moved in and got comfy with some serious shame.

Let me explain.  Today, the teacher next door is hosting a circus-themed bash to celebrate the end of AP exams.  I am not.  He is running a game of Survivor for his Academic Team after school.  I am not.  His class includes what feels like thousands of competitive games that often result in spontaneous whooping and applauding that float through the walls.  Mine does not.

I’ve taught next to this guy for 13 years. I coached him during his first year of teaching, and we’ve shared many professional experiences since. We’ve eaten lunch together more than 2,000 times.

To complicate things further, I teach juniors and he teaches seniors.  My students move from a year with me to a year with him.  Naturally, the kids make comparisons, talking frequently about our differences and our relative worth to their academic futures.  This gives me tons of time and opportunity to dwell on my real and perceived failings.  (To sum:  I concede success to the fabulousness of my students, and I claim blame for the rest.  Sound familiar?)

When this teacher and another remarkable young man from my department decided to work on earning National Board certification, there was no way I wasn’t going to play, too.  The three of us undertook that journey together, and some things finally started to make sense to me— in both my heart and my mind.

Teachers, like anyone, cannot help but compare ourselves to those around us.  My wall-mate sets a high standard.  And, given the daily scrutiny of our every move by our students, we have to steel ourselves against self-doubt.  Nothing cripples a teacher faster than that negative monologue that can run endlessly in our heads, pointing out every possible flaw in our work—and in ourselves. 

Teaching is very personal.  So, how do we separate others’ judgment of our performance from our worth as human beings? 

The National Board process asks teachers to take a mirror, hold it up, and look insanely closely at our professional selves.  I worried that as I went through this intense process of dissecting my work, I would confirm my worst fears and come up short.  I don’t like hearing my own voice on my voicemail, much less watching hours of video-recorded lessons as I critique my word choice, organization, lesson plans, and hair style.

Yet, I did it.  During this process, I wrote pages of descriptive rationale for my choices.  I reflected on why I made the choices I did and analyzed the results they proffered.  I made new plans for next time.  Teachers often do this in their everyday practice.  Yet, because this certification process requires such close examination, as well as substantive data to support conclusions, my judgments felt directly connected to my students’ success or failure in a more meaningful way than my usual, more informal connections.

More importantly, with the National Board Core Standards winding around in my head, I began to push and pull at what I knew—and thought I knew—about my work.  I questioned my core assumptions and reexamined practices I’d used unthinkingly for years.  Because I deeply respect these standards, I desperately wanted my work to reflect them.

It’s funny how we make all sorts of allowances for weakness in our students but rarely do that for ourselves.  Every kid we teach is different, and so are we.  As it turned out, opening my classroom doors and my mind didn’t reveal my failings so much as offer me an opportunity to explore and rejoice in what I know and love, what I have yet to understand, and what I didn’t even know to ponder about my job and myself.

In the end, this practice helped me see not who I wasn’t, but who I could become.  What myself and my colleagues could become together.

Thankfully, all three of us earned National Board Certification that year.  The next year, a fourth member of our team successfully undertook the process.  Now, we spend a lot of time celebrating the marvelous adventure our students undertake as they move through high school, every teacher affording them a distinctly unique experience.  We each have passion and creativity that manifests in different ways.  No wonder we flip out when others raise the idea of a standardized daily routine.  It feels like an attempt to standardize us.

Today, the rock-star teacher next door is having a party (he just came over and offered me some food – we’re friends like that) while my kids are doing some reflective writing (me too).  I didn’t organize after-school Survivor, but I did stay after to sponsor our Gay-Straight Alliance.  My students don’t compete much, but they do collaborate.  And, it gets noisy in here, too.  Just a different kind of noisy. 

And most days?  We both offer a rigorous, engaging, well-rounded experience that gives kids the chance to learn, push themselves, and inspire all of us.

“Me” by me in 1993

  • ScottEDiamond

    Raw and powerful


    I admire so much your willingness to put yourself out there as an example with no attempt to airbrush out imperfections. You have a great deal of courage. And wisdom.

    You said it all with” “My kids are doing some reflective writing (me too)”


    PS: The likeness is remarkable! You haven’t changed in 21 years!

  • ReneeMoore

    Perfect end of semester read!

    So poignant, and so true….For those of us who have been there, thank you for putting this into words.

    This is what it means to be a profession. Not everybody on the same page on the same day, but a weaving of each of our unique personalities and talent sets with those of our students.

  • ScottEDiamond

    Love that!

    ’cause I certainly am never going to be on the same page on the same day!

  • KristofferKohl

    Profound, as usual.


    Thank you for so succinctly capturing what makes the board process meaningful for the individual practitioner and for the profession as a collective.

    Having submitted my portfolio entries just 10 days ago, this line strikes at the heart of my sentiments the past few months: “I worried that as I went through this intense process of dissecting my work, I would confirm my worst fears and come up short.”

    With enough distance between myself as a person and what is represented in my portfolio entries*, I’ve reflected in recent days how proud I am that such a rigorous process exists and that so many teachers (though still not nearly enough!) submit to such intense evaluation. 

    Thank you for the important reminder of why the process is critical to teaching becoming a true profession, and for so honestly portraying what makes it worthwhile.  


    * This line hit equally hard: “Teaching is very personal. So, how do we separate others’ judgment of our performance from our worth as human beings?”

  • ScottEDiamond

    Nicely put!

    I’d like to hear mor about how the process is changing your teaching!


    • LaurenHill


      I think there is a lot to explore here.  I’m also interested in how it changes a teacher’s work after certification beyond my own experience.

      For now, the short answer is that most of the practices that I refined going through boards have stuck with me, most prominently the act itself of holding my work up to the standards and reflecting on how it stacks up.  I found that the process reinforced my strongest held beliefs about what effective practice looks like, so as I go forward, that renewed confidence comes with me.  Also, because our department now has this shared experience, our work together is also supported by that reflective work and the shared understanding of the standards.  

      Thanks for the positive comments – I will say I don’t wear those long skirts so much anymore – though I hear they are making a comeback! (And I do miss those clunky shoes…)

       – Lauren

  • ScottEDiamond

    Shared experience

    I find interesting your comment, “Because our department now has this shared experience, our work together is also supported by that reflective work and the shared understanding of the standards.”

    I hope to further professionalize teaching at my school and at CTQ by intriducing more shared authentic collaborative study. Like journal clubs in my graduate department. The sharing may be as important as the study.


  • MarkSovers

    Thank you

    Thank you for the gental reminder of what is truly important in education and that are people. We all get caught up sometimes in life focusing in on the things we can not do and letting this determine whether we pursue different opportunities in life. Thank you for reminding all of us that success in teaching/life is bringing your individual gifts into a community efffort to help everyone become successful. You bring gifts and talents that no one else can bring, thank you for making a difference.

  • DeidraGammill

    What I Learned from Failing NBPTS

    I don’t know how I missed your blog post earlier, but I’m so glad I stumbled across it this afternoon. Thank you for sharing so honestly! You could have been narrating from inside my head – it is so hard not to compare ourselves to the fabulous teachers around us, and we tend to see only the positive they do, yet focus on all the ways we feel that we’ve fallen short. Why is it so hard for us to show ourselves the grace we willingly show others?

    When I went through boards in 2010, I experienced that same kind of introspection and thoughtful reflection (and embarrassment, “Is that what I sound like/look like? Why do I constantly hold my own hands??), but I felt fairly confident that I’d do okay.

    Scores were released while I was in Orlando at the NCTE/NWP conference. I foolishly decided to check them from my hotel room rather than waiting till I got home. Surprise! I missed the cut score. By 8 points. 8 points!!! (I think I’ll write a book with that title one day).

    I cried like a baby. I wrote my resignation letter to my principal, rationalizing that I was obviously inept and stupid (sounds pretty rational, right?). Failure rocked me to my very core, and a lot of what bubbled to the surface wasn’t pretty or mature or professional. I’m grateful there wasn’t a mini-bar in my hotel room that night. My behavior might have made it outside my hotel room if I’d had access to booze!

    But you know what? Failing the first time was the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to reflect on WHY I missed the boat and what had to change if my teaching was going to meet the Standards. I thought watching those portfolio videos was painful. Nothing prepared me for the kind of brutally honest introspection I had to do when faced with National Board FAILURE!

    Before all the growth that came with the brutal honesty and reflection, I was saved by another colleague (an amazing rock-star teacher in the next room) who also failed by a few points. She helped me get back on my feet. I’m ashamed to say how my comfort I took in her failure – it wasn’t that I wanted her to fail, but somehow if she missed it too, then maybe my teaching career hadn’t all been a sham; maybe if a rock star teacher could fall short, then it wasn’t the end of the world if I fell short too.

    She and I worked together, each re-submitting one portfolio. And both of us passed the second time around.

    Failing the Board process the first time was the best thing that ever happened to me professionally. I don’t wish it on anyone else, but I know that I’m a better teacher, a better colleague, a better person for having been knocked low. Struggling to climb out of the abyss and tackle the mountain again forced me to focused on my teaching. The first time, I’m ashamed to say, I’d been more focused on myself (how did I sound, how did I look, was my lesson amazing?); the second time, I focused on my students (what were they saying, what were they understanding, what could I do to help them more?). Failing Boards served as a paradigm-shifting epiphany, reflecting where the real weaknesses were and what it would take to strengthen them.

  • DeidraGammill

    Amazing Metaphor!!
    Susan, I love your comment, especially this part:

    And whether a teacher achieves or not, looking at those scores is a raw, totally exposed experience. Sort of like the Magic Mirror turned into a professional equivalent of the three way mirror on “What Not to Wear.”

    What an amazing metaphor! Because it is JUST like that. Not only are you forced to look at your professional self, you know that the NBPTS scorers have seen you and soon everyone who knew you were working on your Boards will see you too. I felt so naked and exposed in my failure; it helped me understand why many teachers don’t attempt a second time. The thought of standing in front of the three way mirror again is unbearable!

  • SusanGraham

    It’s a magic mirror and you’re looking good!


    Thanks for sharing this. Doing that profolio is the professional equivalent of stepping into the 3600 mirror on “What Not to Wear” with Stacy and Clinton.  Opening those scores feels like sitting in front of your computer and asking “Mirror, mirror on the wall, am I good  teacher at all?” The whole process feels so total expose and vunerable. I cried over my videos. I threw up in the trash can between logging on and waiting for my scores to load. I’ve worked with teachers who did not achieve, and  I wonder if I would have had the committment to try again if I had not squeaked by the first time. I don’t know that I would have had your courage.

    You said it all  when you said this; “The first time, I’m ashamed to say, I’d been more focused on myself (how did I sound, how did I look, was my lesson amazing?); the second time, I focused on my students (what were they saying, what were they understanding, what could I do to help them more?).”

    I experienced that same paradigm shift. “How will this impact student learning?” is embedded in my mind and “What my students will know and be able to do” shapes every decision. I have heard so many NBCTs say “The power was not in getting the label, it was in going through the process.”  NBPTS is a magic looking glass because when we study our own reflection closely enough, we see through the looking glass, beyond ourselves and see our students more clearly.

  • SusanGraham

    You Own that Mirror!

    But you did it anyway! Now when you look into that Magic Mirror for an answer to:

    Mirror, mirror on the wall,

    Am I a good teacher at all?

    You don’t have to depend on good lighting or touch ups or special filters. You don’t need a Magic Mirror, because you have become your own mirror that reflects your practice in your impact on student learning and when you own the mirror you can see clearly and answer that question yourself.

    Mirror, mirror in my head,

    It’s not about me, it’s the students instead!


  • Windy

    I loved it too!

    I just submitted my portfolio and took the written test a few short weeks ago!

    You wrote, “In the end, this process helped me see not who I wasn’t, but who I could become.”  

    I feel that I am just beginning to walk the path of an accomplished teacher. I think because I recognize that, I will be ok if I don’t receive a passing score on my first attempt. It’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if.’

    The experience has changed me and my practice fundamentally. I recommend it to anyone who aspires to have deep professional growth.




  • Teri Foltz

    Thank you

    I wish I had had these kind of honest conversations when I was teaching.  In retirement, I often wish I could go back and correct my errors.  This piece by Lauren is so insightful and well written as are all the comments.  Thnk you for opening up about a common issue!

  • KipHottman

    This is the type of blog


    This is the type of blog that I wish I had read before starting the boards in 2011.  You describe so many feelings that resonate with teachers during the process and this would be a great read for those beginning the process.  With the SEED grant coming next year would it be worthwhile for a CTQ sponsered series of blogs from Kentucky teachers who have their National Boards?  I remeber feeling alone at times because I didn’t know anyone in KY who had their certification in Spanish.  I would have loved a place to meet virtually for advice.  Any thoughts?

  • Harrie Buecker

    Magic Mirror


    I visited your classroom numerous times over the years, and each time I had the opportunity to be there, experiencing the same magic in which your students were engaged. I didn’t want to leave, to miss what was going to happen next!

    You have that special gift of engaging students in an intellectuallly-charged, yet very caring classroom environment.  You are absolutely an amazing educator and I am so proud of what you do each and every day!